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Deontay Wilder First Member of Heavyweight Troika to Test the ‘Rule of Three’

Bernard Fernandez

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There is a commonly accepted notion that “good things always come in threes.” The so-called “Rule of Three” principle suggests things that come in threes somehow are inherently more humorous, satisfying and effective than any other numerical grouping.

For those who dismiss such a blanket proposition out of hand, consider the following: beloved nursery rhymes (Three Little Pigs), classic literature (the Bronte sisters and Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers), the Bible (Ecclesiastes 4:12 holds that “a cord with three strands is not quickly broken”) and entertainment (what little kid did not love three-ring circuses?). In sports, baseball’s three best centerfielders (Willie, Mickey and The Duke) once all played in the same city, New York, and one of them, Mickey Mantle, won the batting Triple Crown in 1956. Golf’s popularity on television skyrocketed in the 1960s with the emergence of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as a “Big Three” whose revered members always seemed to be bunched atop the leader board for the final round of major tournaments.

Boxing’s heavyweight equivalent to Arnie, Jack and Gary arose to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s, with Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and George Foreman held in higher public esteem than others in the big-man division, and demonstrating why they should have been with their dominating performances in the ring. To be fair, Larry Holmes’ eventual emergence as a great champion expanded the Big Three to a Big Four, but his prime did not intersect as neatly with those of his peers to fully validate his delayed inclusion into that particular era’s golden circle.

There is another saying – what goes around, comes around – that would appear to have merged with the Rule of Three as the heavyweight division again has separated itself into tiers, with undefeated champions Deontay Wilder (40-0-1, 39 KOs), Anthony Joshua (22-0, 21 KOs) and Tyson Fury (27-0-1, 19 KOs) ensconced at a level well above that of a secondary group scrambling for improved position and possible upgrades. The good news is that the current Big Three all have bouts scheduled within a 29-day period, offering fight fans a chance to observe and compare their relative strengths and weaknesses as to which chest-thumping titlist deserves to be widely recognized as the best of the bunch.

The bad news is that this latest elite group of three will not be going head-to-head in any of the matchups, instead engaging seemingly lesser opponents in contests whose outcomes at first glance would appear to be preordained. Should any of the longshots cash a winning ticket, as was the case in the recent Kentucky Derby, when 65-to-1 outsider Country House was declared the winner after an in-race foul kept the wagering favorite, Maximum Security, from having a blanket of roses placed around his neck, the hoped-for round-robin elimination process  involving Wilder, Joshua and Fury will take a major hit.

Wilder, the WBC titlist, gets things started this Saturday night when he takes on his mandatory challenger, former football player Dominic Breazeale (20-1, 18 KOs), in the Showtime-televised main event at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. But while the outrageous Wilder is hyping that fight by suggesting he will literally and gleefully beat Breazeale to death, the result of some sort of personal animosity stemming from an out-of-the-ring confrontation in an Alabama hotel lobby in 2017, his thoughts never seem to stray far from Joshua and Fury, the principal roadblocks in his path to clear recognition as the No. 1 guy. And as everyone familiar with Buster Douglas’ shocker over an underprepared and unmotivated Mike Tyson understands, peering too far ahead into the future instead of concentrating on the present can have dire consequences.

“Hey, Dominic Breazeale asked for this,” Wilder told reporters after a recent workout at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. “I didn’t go seek him, he sought me so if (death) comes, it comes. This is a brutal sport, this is not a gentleman’s sport. I keep saying this is not a gentleman’s sport. I’m still trying to get a body on my record. This is the only sport where you can kill a man and get paid for it at the same time. It’s legal, so why not use my right to do so?”

Such intemperate and inflammatory remarks do not cast Wilder in a positive light, just as the then-19-year-old Mike Tyson, following his brutal, fifth-round knockout of Jesse Ferguson, with a ripping right uppercut, eventually came to regret his comment that “I wanted to drive his nose bone up into his brain.” Oh, and Wilder should be aware by now that fighters who actually did fatally pummel opponents, such as the late Emile Griffith and Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, were consumed with remorse for the remainder of their careers.

Wilder’s latest vow of violence might be extreme even for him, but he does have a sledgehammer right hand and his knockout ratio of 97.5 percent is highest among all heavyweight champions. But even should Wilder add Breazeale to his list of victims who were unable to go the distance, this supposed grudge match only matters in terms of how far another KO for the lean Alabaman advances the needle concerning a rematch with Fury or a full unification showdown with Joshua.

It took a 12th-round knockdown of Fury, the lineal champion, for Wilder to salvage a split draw in their classic bout of Dec. 1, 2018, which all but screamed for a second pairing to be made sooner rather than later. But Fury chose to sign a co-promotional deal with Top Rank and its broadcast partner ESPN, putting him on the other side of a fence and raising doubts that the much-anticipated do-over would ever take place. And as far as a clear-the-decks meeting involving Wilder and Joshua, each side contends it is the other gumming up the works with protracted negotiations that never seem to reach a resolution amenable to all parties.

“He didn’t want (a rematch), that’s why he’s fighting another guy,” Wilder said of Fury, who takes on German Tom Schwarz (24-0, 16 KOs), who is a household name mainly in his own household, on June 15 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. “He didn’t want that fight, or it would have been happening. I wouldn’t have had to fight my mandatory. I would have went straight to Fury.

“I hurt Tyson Fury very badly. I gave him a concussion. When you got a man who don’t understand how he got on the ground, or how he got up, his brain has been shook. He don’t need that fight again. Hey, if you need a warmup or a tuneup to see if all your marbles are back in place, go do that. Take as many warmups you need. (Fury) said he’s got three more fights and he’s out of here. If one of those fights is me, I’m gonna finish him. I’m gonna finish the job.”

And Joshua, the super heavyweight gold medalist for the United Kingdom at the 2012 London Olympics? The big Briton makes his American debut on June 1 at Madison Square Garden against pudgy Mexican-American Andy Ruiz Jr. (32-1, 21 KOs), who will be filling in for Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller, who failed three drug tests in quick succession and was obliged to relinquish his slot.

“With Joshua, for four months we tried (to reach a contractual accord),” Wilder said. “But it don’t matter. I’m more exciting than (Fury and Joshua). Those guys don’t bring excitement like I bring. Tyson Fury is the most boring one. I just do what I do best, and it’s to knock guys silly. I’m not in competition with none of them.”

But for any member of the Big Three to claim superiority over the others without competing against them is misleading at best, and fraudulent at worst. These are fights that require no further marinating, and even the party crashers they are likely to dispatch in the immediate future are like appetizers that shouldn’t satisfy fight fans’ hunger, or their own.

Nibbling on the hors d’oeuvres for now will have to do, but the doors to the banquet hall remain closed. Until that changes, the Big Three heavyweights are like solitary occupants of their own little islands, wondering, like the rest of us, who deserves to rule the archipelago.

Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

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Avila Perspective, Chap 73: Gesta vs Morales, Celebrity Boxing, Liston and More

David A. Avila

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One of the rewards for journalists following smaller boxing cards is watching new talent emerge. Every so often you spot the gold nuggets among the heap.

Some fighters stand out immediately before even stepping in the prize ring. Others walk in hesitantly with dirty towels wrapped around their shoulders.

On Thursday, Carlos “The Solution” Morales (19-4-3, 8 KOs) and Mercito “No Mercy” Gesta (32-3-2, 17 KOs), who arrived on the hard road of boxing, meet in a lightweight match set for 10 rounds at Belasco Theater in downtown L.A. DAZN will stream live.

Two classier guys you will never meet than Gesta and Morales.

Gesta, a southpaw from Cebu, Philippines, arrived in 2007 and immediately found work on casino fight cards in Arizona, California and Nevada. His athleticism was obvious and he raced through competition till he met Mexico’s Miguel Vazquez for the IBF lightweight world title.

In that first loss, fans learned what Gesta was all about. He was gracious in defeat and fans loved his character. From that point on more people wanted to see the Filipino lefty perform. After Top Rank let him go, Golden Boy Promotions picked up his contract and he became a staple on the Southern California fight scene.

Win or lose, fans adore Gesta who was trained by Freddie Roach at the Wild Card Boxing club in Hollywood but now works with Marvin Sonorio. A decision loss to WBA lightweight titlist Jorge Linares at the Inglewood Forum did nothing to diminish Gesta’s fan base.

“I need challenges and I like challenges,” said Gesta during an interview with Beto Duran on Golden Boy’s Ring Side show. “I still feel great and still feel in the game.”

How could you not like a fighter like Gesta?

On the opposite corner at Belasco Theater will be “The Solution” Morales.

When Morales first entered the professional fight scene he stumbled a bit with a loss then three consecutive draws. I saw all four fights in person. The Mexican-born fighter needed about two years to figure out what worked for him.

He’s found it.

Morales, a gym rat if I ever saw one, purchased his own gym in the Alhambra area. He’s a family man, worker and businessman all rolled into one. The Mexican fighter needed time to discover his assets in the ring and use them in a productive manner.

Though he’s lost three of his last six fights they all came against top competition such as world champion Alberto Machado, ranked contender Rene Alvarado and current star Ryan Garcia. In each and every one of those fights Morales was up to his neck in battle.

“I definitely need a win over a name like Mercito Gesta,” said Morales. “He’s been in the game a long time.”

In local gyms he spars with many of the best and on occasion they understand what “the Solution” is all about.

“He is very, very good,” said one visiting Japanese fighter who witnessed Morales knock out a sparring partner in one particular session. “A very professional style.”

Both Gesta and Morales represent the side of Los Angeles most fans don’t get to see. Once upon a time, matchups like these were common in the L.A. area. Golden Boy Promotions has been slowly building up these local fighters and if you have paid attention you know this will be a firecracker of a show.

This is a 1930s kind of match you used to see at the old Olympic Auditorium or Hollywood Legion Stadium when guys like Speedy Dado, Baby Arizmendi, Chalky Wright and Newsboy Brown would fight each other and fill the arena. Dado would bring the Filipino crowd, Arizmendi the Mexican crowd, Wright the African- American fans, Newsboy Brown the Jewish fans and so on.

Gesta versus Morales has that 1930s flavor. If you close your eyes you might expect a ghost or two from boxing’s past to be in attendance at Belasco Theater. It’s an old venue where famous bandleaders like Duke Ellington once played. It’s got a lot of history and this fight was tailor-made for the old stylish building.

Celebrity Boxing

Nowadays celebrities come from different directions.

Last week, celebrities who gained fame via social media avenues like YouTube.com, Twitter and Instagram, arrived at the Staples Center in Los Angeles with hands wrapped, gloves on and a license to box professionally.

Their names were not familiar to regular boxing fans, but to millions of youngsters and young adults who do not normally follow boxing, these guys named Logan Paul, KSI and Joshua Brueckner were super stars.

It was a massive hit according to DAZN and Matchroom Boxing, the promoters.

I walked around the arena to take a look at the people arriving to see the boxing card. What I saw were moms and their sons and daughters, groups of girls in their early teens, and pale boys who normally don’t see much sun because they’re usually planted behind a computer playing video games. They all had a blast.

Most of these fans had never seen live boxing and got their first glimpse of prizefighting at a high level when Ronny Rios defended his WBA Gold super bantamweight title against Colombia’s Hugo Berrio. The Santa Ana fighter Rios came out firing thudding body shots that echoed in the arena. You could hear the responses from the new fans who openly expressed their amazement with a roar of applause at the display of power.

It’s one thing to see a fight but a whole new thing to hear power shots bouncing off another human being. Rios pummeled Berrio up and down and eventually knocked out the Colombian with a three-punch combination in the fourth round. Fans were awestruck.

You never forget your first live prizefight. It burns in your memory forever. All of these new fans will never forget watching a live boxing card.

Watching the responses of the new kind of crowd was an experience in itself. Many of these fans will return for more. Their excitement was pure and untainted.

Showtime

A feature documentary visiting the life of Sonny Liston called “Pariah: The Lives and Deaths of Sonny Liston” makes its debut on Friday Nov. 15 on Showtime at 9 p.m. (PT).

Liston was one of the most mysterious and feared heavyweight champions of all time. Read the story by Bernard Fernandez to get a preview of what to expect from the documentary. It’s riveting stuff: https://tss.ib.tv/boxing/featured-boxing-articles-boxing-news-videos-rankings-and-results/61445-from-womb-to-tomb-the-fate-of-sonny-liston-was-seemingly-preordained

Though Liston died 49 years ago in December 1970, he’s still discussed by boxing people especially in Las Vegas where he lived and died.

Fights to Watch (all times Pacific Coast time)

Thurs. DAZN 7 p.m. Mercito Gesta (32-3-2) vs Carlos Morales (19-4-3).

Fri. ESPN+ 12 p.m. Rocky Fielding (27-2) vs Abdallah Paziwapazi (26-6-1).

Fri. Showtime 7:30 p.m. Erik Ortiz (16-0) vs Alberto Palmetta (12-1).

Sat. ESPN+ 12 p.m. Lee McGregor (7-0) vs Kash Farooq (13-0).

Photo credit: Kyte Monroe

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Ortiz Accuses Wilder of ‘Borderline Criminal’ Tactics; Wilder Takes Umbrage

Bernard Fernandez

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Yes, Deontay Wilder still wants to knock out each and every man he faces in the ring. But a bond the WBC heavyweight champion has shared with his Nov. 23 rematch rival and fellow family man, Luis Ortiz, had caused Wilder to have a somewhat more conciliatory feeling toward the Cuban southpaw given the fact that each power puncher knows what it’s like to deal with a child facing significant health issues.

But Wilder’s small but oft-expressed well of goodwill toward Ortiz may have dried up Tuesday afternoon after he learned of derogatory comments Ortiz had made about him during a teleconference with the media, prior to Wilder joining the call. Ortiz (31-1, 26 KOs), who had Wilder (41-0-1, 40 KOs) in the danger zone in the seventh round of their first bout, on March 3, 2018, at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, couldn’t seal the deal and went down and out himself in the 10th round. All three judges had Wilder ahead by the same razor-thin margin, 85-84, when the end came.

The do-over will take place at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and will be televised via Fox Pay-Per-View

Wilder, although promising to win inside the distance as he always does, again gave props to the 40-year-old Ortiz, a father of three whose daughter Lismercedes suffers from epidermolysis bullosa, a painful skin condition. That struck a sympathetic chord with Wilder, who has eight children, one of whom, daughter Naieya, was born in 2005 with spina bifida.

“Ortiz has a family,” Wilder said when it was his turn to answer reporters’ questions. “I grew a great bond with Ortiz the first time with his child. My child was born with a disorder as well. I know personally how hard it is and how much it takes to take care of a child with a disorder. It takes a lot of money and it takes a lot of care, so I wanted to bless him again (by granting him a rematch) – not only for being a great warrior, one of the best in the world, but also for his family.”

Wilder had scarcely finished lauding Ortiz as a fighter and a father when he was told that his ring tactics had been characterized by Ortiz in less than flattering terms.

“Some of the antics that Wilder does, like the illegal blows that he throws with the inside of his fists and punching from the top of the head down … all kinds of craziness,” Ortiz, who does not speak English, said through his trainer/translator, Herman Caicedo. “It makes it very difficult to get settled in. Quite frankly, that stuff is borderline criminal.”

Wilder, who figured he had “blessed” Ortiz by granting him a high-visibility, good-paying shot at his title 20 months ago, and was doing so again, seemed taken aback by the suggestion that his free-swinging ways and code of ethics had been called into question.

“I never heard of that,” Wilder said. “I think he’s being sarcastic. The only thing that’s criminal is me hitting people with the right hand and almost killing them.

“Someone will have to ask him to clarify what he meant by that. I would like to know myself. If it was something to tear me down, I would feel some type of negative vibe toward him, after I’ve blessed him twice. That’ll make me want to hurt him more than I want to do now. Because when I get mad, it’s over.

“Right now, I’ve been very respectful to him. He don’t want me to take this wrong because then I’d really want to beat his ass.”

Boxing being what it is, mutual respect tends to be put on hold in any case when the action gets hot and heavy. It was pretty intense in the first time around, the seventh round representing the most perilous spot Wilder has been in since turning pro after taking a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But “The Bronze Bomber,” as Wilder is known, said that being taken to the brink and fighting his way out of trouble is as big a plus as any of his exclamation-point KO victories.

“That seventh round was an amazing time for me,” he said. “It allowed me to see what I’m really made of. I was very proud of myself to be able to handle that situation, and go be able to go into the fight with the flu. Proper protocol is to (postpone) that and wait ’til a later date when you’re healthy. But being me, I’m hard-headed and that makes me different from the rest.”

Ailing daughters or not, it really would not make that much of a difference had Ortiz tossed verbal bouquets at Wilder instead of incendiary accusations. Wilder, who will be making the 10th defense of the WBC championship he won on a 12-round decision over then-titlist Bermane Stiverne on Jan. 17, 2015, believes that, at 34, he is the best heavyweight on the planet, worthy of discussion as one of the best big men ever to lace up a pair of gloves, and arguably the most devastating puncher ever.

“We already know I’m the hardest hitter probably in boxing history,” he said with typical immodesty. “I see this fight going only one way, and that’s Deontay Wilder knocking out Luis Ortiz. He knows it, and I know it.”

Well, maybe Ortiz isn’t quite convinced of the inevitability of his getting starched again.  He was a live underdog the first time he and Wilder swapped haymakers, and he’s a live underdog again. His dream is to become the first Cuban heavyweight champion, and he insists he is as mentally and physically prepared as he’s ever been for a fight.

“He can bring whatever he’s going to bring, no problem,” Ortiz said of Wilder.

Could Ortiz have been playing standard-issue mind games by claiming the champion’s style is almost felonious? Maybe. But if he really wanted to get under Wilder’s skin, he could have said something about how much he enjoyed LSU knocking off the Alabama Crimson Tide this past Saturday. Wilder, a native of Tuscaloosa, Ala., who grew up dreaming of someday playing football for his hometown university, would instantly have been whipped into a frothing rage.

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Thomas Hauser’s Latest Book, ‘A Dangerous Journey,’ is Another Peach

Arne K. Lang

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In 2001, the University of Arkansas Press released Thomas Hauser’s “A Beautiful Sickness: Reflections on the Sweet Science” and a tradition was born. Decades from now, if someone wants to know what was happening in the world of professional boxing during the first two decades of the 21st century – “on and off the field,” so to speak – a complete set of Hauser’s annual anthologies will be a prized resource.

Hauser’s latest book is titled “A Dangerous Journey,” subtitled “Another Year Inside Boxing.”
Like the others, it is a compilation of previously published stories. There are 46 in all, arranged under four headings: Fighters and Fights; Curiosities; Other Sports; and Issues and Answers. Regular readers of The Sweet Science will recognize some of the stories as they appeared first in these pages.

Fighters and Fights opens with Canelo-GGG II, taking the reader from the contentious lead-up to the scene in Canelo’s dressing room as he waits to be summoned into the ring, and then on to the actual fight. In the last entry of this section, Hauser is back in Canelo’s dressing room for his match with Rocky Fielding. Canelo’s “key to victory,” notes Hauser, was that Fielding didn’t belong in the same ring with him.

There are 11 entries in the “Curiosities” component. Two of the more interesting segments deal with the history of mouth guards and the history of ring walks.

I wasn’t aware that mouthpieces did not become standard until the 1930s. Neither Dempsey nor Tunney wore a mouthguard in their historic “long count” fight. A boxer can buy a mouthguard off the shelf for a few dollars or have one custom made for a few hundred dollars. According to Freddie Roach, Marlon Starling was too cheap to go to a dentist and have a mouthpiece customized for him.

In the old days, ring walks were straightforward. The procession normally included only the fighter, his trainer and his two cornermen. The boxer walked behind the trainer with his hands on the trainer’s shoulders, followed by the cornermen. Then music was introduced and nowadays for some big fights the ring walk is a major production with pyrotechnics.

Hauser quotes Teddy Atlas: “The ring walk in boxing is part of a tradition, two fighters taking a short but long journey to a place that’s dangerous and dark. That’s lost now. It’s not about introspection or history or tradition anymore. It’s about self-celebration and how sensational can we make it.”

Atlas, Hauser informs us, was once hired by the New York Rangers hockey team to teach the rudiments of boxing to one of their bigger players who wasn’t “engaging” as often as they would have liked.

Although stiffer penalties have been introduced to reduce the frequency of fights in hockey, the NHL, says Hauser, doesn’t want to eliminate fights altogether. Moreover, although fights are real, they are, needless to say, seldom injurious. (Try getting leverage behind a punch when you’re boxing on a slick surface with ice skates as your boxing shoes). “As far as technique is concerned,” said promoter Lou DiBella, “hockey players who are fighting make Butterbean look like Sugar Ray Robinson.”

In one of his fun pieces, Hauser compares the two Kid Galahad movies, the 1937 original in black and white with Hollywood heavyweights Edward G. Robinson, Bette Davis, and Humphrey Bogart in supporting roles and the 1962 re-make starring Elvis Presley. The former, says Hauser, is unrealistic, hokey, and lots of fun. In the Elvis version, the fight scenes are “as realistic as a theatrical production would be if Adrien Broner played Hamlet.”

Hauser reviews more boxing books than any other boxing writer and all of his anthologies have a “Literary Notes” section: A pictorial history of Muhammad Ali from the archives of the Louisville Courier-Journal comes highly recommended although the “wonderful” compilation is marred by some inaccuracies in the text. The Courier-Journal’s collection of Ali photographs dates back to when he was a 12-year-old boy.

Collectors of boxing memorabilia might be interested in knowing that the “Holy Grail” of collectibles is The Ring magazine championship belt inscribed to Cassius Clay (whereabouts unknown). That’s according to Scott Hamilton who Hauser identifies as America’s leading boxing memorabilia dealer. Hamilton notes that when he started his business, 85 percent of sales were to collectors in the U.S.; now it’s down to 40 percent because of European buyers. Interesting.

Hauser’s writings have earned him numerous awards, including multiple BWAA awards for investigative reporting. He covers issues large (boxing’s PED problem; incompetent boxing commissions and ring officials) and small (the pervasive scent of marijuana at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center). “I appreciate the pleasures of marijuana as a recreational drug and also its benefits as a medicinal aid, “writes Hauser. “But it shouldn’t be forced on those who don’t want it.”

In this vein, Hauser’s examination of CompuBox is food for thought. Do you suspect that the CompuBox punch stats are sometimes way off the mark? If so, those suspicions will be reinforced after digesting Hauser’s book.

Thomas Hauser is a renaissance man. He’s well-versed in the works of Beethoven, Charles Dickens, and Mark Twain, among others, and to this list we can now add Albert Einstein. One of the longer of the 46 pieces in “A Dangerous Journey” is a mini-bio of Einstein who, despite being dead for more than 60 years, “remains the world’s most powerful symbol of scientific inquiry.”

There is something self-indulgent about this piece. It belongs in a different book. Moreover, not all readers will appreciate his swipe at the Commander in Chief.

Many years ago, Hauser collaborated with golf legend Arnold Palmer on Palmer’s autobiography. Palmer wasn’t outwardly political, but he was a Barry Goldwater conservative who had numbered Dwight D. Eisenhower among his closest friends.

What would Arnold Palmer think of Donald Trump? Palmer died in 2016 shortly before the election, so Hauser could not reach out to him. But he reached out to Palmer’s older daughter, Peg. Her discernment, in a nutshell: My dad would have cringed.

This reporter wishes that it was mandatory for all non-fiction books to have an index. And that goes double for books of this nature as the various chapter headings don’t always point the reader in the right direction if he wishes to re-visit a slice of the book that particularly struck his fancy.

One can appreciate why the publisher eschewed an index as it would have been very long, substantially thickening a work that already clocks in at 316 pages. And index or no interest, “A Dangerous Journey,” aside from its historical value, is bound to provide hours of enjoyment for boxing fans of all ages.

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